As an FCC Forfeiture Order issued today proves, even noncommercial educational college radio stations need to comply with FCC rules to avoid big fines.  The Commission confirmed a $10,000 forfeiture against Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire originally proposed in 2007.  The college argued that the forfeiture should be reduced based on the station’s noncommercial educational status, but

The FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture today, proposing a $10,000 fine against a public TV station in Los Angeles for requiring an appointment to view the station’s public inspection file. This case shows how seriously the FCC takes the requirement of open and unfettered access to a broadcast station’s public file.  An FCC agent visited the station’s main studio twice without identifying himself as an FCC employee.  Both times, the station’s security guard refused to let him see the station’s public inspection file or speak with the station manager without an appointment.

On the third visit, the FCC agent identified himself as such and was allowed to view the station’s public inspection file "after a thorough examination of the agent’s badge and several phone calls to [station] personnel." 

The public inspection file was found to be complete. However, the station was fined $10,000 for "willfully and repeatedly" failing to make the public inspection file available.  The FCC stressed that "stations cannot require members of the public to make appointments to access a station’s public inspection file."Continue Reading FCC Fines TV Station $10,000 for Requring Appointment to View Public Inspection File

The Commission today released yet another forfeiture for what has become an increasingly common oversight among broadcasters — the failure to timely file a license renewal application for a satellite earth station.  What made today’s forfeiture unique, however, is the fact that the Commission proposed to double the amount of the forfeiture based on the size of the broadcast licensee and its presumed ability to pay such a fine.  After balancing all the factors, the Commission ultimately ratcheted the fine down a bit, but in the end it assessed a $25,000 fine for the failure to timely file license renewal applications for two earth stations and for the continued operation of those facilities without proper authority.  In light of today’s decision, broadcasters should be sure to review and track the expiration dates for all FCC authorizations. 

The FCC’s decision in this case makes clear that in imposing a large fine in this case it is attempting to send a message that the Licensee will heed.  Per the Commission’s decision:  "This $16,000 forfeiture amount [the baseline forfeiture]  is subject to adjustment, however.  In this regard, we consider the size of the violator and ability to pay a forfeiture, as well as its prior violation of the same rule sections before us today.  To ensure that forfeiture liability is a deterrent, and not simply a cost of doing business, the Commission has determined that large or highly profitable companies such as [Licensee] , could expect the assessment of higher forfeitures for violations, and that prior violations of the same or other regulations would also be a factor contributing to upward adjustment of apparent liability.  Given [Licensee’s] size and its ability to pay a forfeiture, coupled with its previous violation, we conclude that an upward adjustment of the base forfeiture amount to $32,000 is appropriate."  [Emphasis added.]  In reaching its decision, the Commission noted that the Licensee in this case was a large broadcaster with "net yearly sales" of over $110 million.  

This forfeiture should serve as a clear warning to broadcasters both big and small to review and track the expiration dates of any earth stations or other authorizations held by a broadcast station.  Rarely (if ever) will the license term of an earth station authorization coincide with the renewal of the parent broadcast station, which means it is easy for the earth station to slip through the cracks.  Continue Reading Broadcasters Beware: Failure to Timely Renew Earth Stations Can Draw Large Fines

The FCC today issued three orders imposing fines on broadcasters – cutting no slack to anyone.  These cases demonstrate how important strict compliance with all FCC rules is to avoid fines before the current Commission.  The first decision imposed a fine of $2800 on a broadcaster for having an unfenced tower – where the broadcaster claimed that the fence was temporarily removed to facilitate the clearing of brush as required by local authorities to remove a potential fire hazard.  While the FCC seemed to recognize that the fence removal was temporary, and that it was missing for only a few weeks while weed killer was being applied at the site, the Commission still imposed the fine – requiring that access to an AM tower always be restricted, prohibiting open access even for a short period.

The second case was a decision which imposed a fine of $2000 on a broadcaster for operating from an unauthorized transmitter site.  While the broadcaster had received Special Temporary Authority (an "STA")  to operate from the site, the STA expired.  The broadcaster filed an extension request, but forgot to include the filing fee check.  The broadcaster claims that he re-filed the request, and had a canceled check to prove it, although the Commission had no record of the re-filed STA (though the FCC did acknowledge having received the check).  Finding that it had no record of the re-filed STA, and further finding that the applicant should have inquired about the failure to receive an STA extension after 180 days (the length of an STA), the Commission imposed the fine on the broadcaster.  While this case is certainly complicated by the missing extension request, given the canceled check one would assume that broadcaster must have filed something, and the FCC’s usual rule is that if an STA extension is on file, the station can continue to operate.  Of course, with an extension that was pending for 2 years, probably some inquiry was warranted.  But whether it was a $2000 mistake is a different question.Continue Reading FCC Cuts No Slack on Fines – Temporarily Unfenced Tower, Expired STA, Former Owner – All Draw Fines